NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Ritu Sharma, Co-founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide.
Women and girls throughout the world face all sorts of hurdles every single day of their lives, simply because they are female. But when natural disasters hit, those hurdles multiply, putting women and girls specifically at severe risk of malnutrition, hunger, thirst, and homelessness and it leaves them vulnerable to sexual or physical violence.
For example, when the earthquake in Haiti hit in 2010, women and girls did not have safe places to stay and were raped, women were delivering babies in the streets, and if a woman’s partner was missing or dead she had a hard time getting help because the males in the family got first access to supplies such as food, clothing, and clean water.
On March 1, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides assistance to poor developing countries, announced a new policy that plans to change all that.
The Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy is essentially a fancy title for a policy that makes women and girls’ empowerment an explicit goal of U.S. government. The new policy will change the way billions of dollars in U.S. aid will be given to the poorest men and women around the world. So why’s this such a groundbreaking moment? Because this is the first time that the agency will recognize the huge disadvantages women and girls face, since President Kennedy created USAID in 1961.
And while assistance for natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti will now benefit women and girls specifically, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This new policy will literally impact millions of women all over the world. For example, agriculture programs will be created to not just increase the productivity of subsistence farmers, but also to make sure that in doing so women farmers get more control over their crops, more of a say in how things get done, and get to keep more of their own money. For some women, this will mean the difference between being able to provide enough food or adequate health care to their children and having to go without.
This announcement is one of the proudest moments of my career. When I founded Women Thrive Worldwide in 1998, it was with the hopes of seeing just this type of change that will have a lasting impact on women and girls throughout the world. This victory was decades in the making – pre-dating my organization – but I can’t tell you how hard we worked over the last 14 years to bring it to fruition. From bringing women leaders from the developing world to Washington to speak directly with policy makers, to thousands of constituent letters to Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and everything in between, it was all worth it.
But we’re not done just yet. Now we will make sure that these policies are more than just words on paper and are truly making a difference for women across the world. This is the part that really matters – actually changing the lives of real women and girls who deserve to be heard, included, and empowered.
You can read the full Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy here.
Photo from Thinkstockphotos.com.